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The Dangers of Having a Single Story

October 17, 2012 | By Dina Buck

Do you ever find yourself thinking in black and white terms, drawing strong boundaries between things, categorizing people and situations into right and wrong, good and bad, desirable and undesirable?  I certainly do.

It’s tempting, and sometimes a little too easy. I notice I'm especially prone to one-dimensional thinking when I’m tired or stressed because it allows me to feel I have a grip on the great big world out there.  It gives me a sense that things are manageable, predictable – easy to define and circumscribe.

In this wonderful TED lecture, Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Adichie talks about the dangers of having a limited narrative about other people and places.  Through her own personal stories, she demonstrates how insisting on a single story can reinforce stereotypes, create divisions, and blind us to the co-existing possibilities and multiple complexities that comprise our world.

If we only see a person as poor and uneducated, a country as corrupt, a group of people as depraved, a situation as strictly negative, or if we insist something or someone is only good, is superior, can do no wrong, then our view is incomplete.  As Adichie puts it, we “flatten” our experience.

Stories are important and powerful.  They can open our eyes, or act as blindfolds.  How, when, why, and by whom stories are told shapes our world view.

What stories do you have about yourself, others, the world?  What are stories others have told you? Are there different angles or endings that might be just as true as the ones you currently tell, or have been told?


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